Communication: How culture shapes our perception

Cross-cultural differences are a common challenge in the tech industry. As companies operate in a global environment, they must be aware of fundamental cultural differences to promote better communication and collaboration among employees from different cultures, and ensure that business deals and transactions with other global partners go smoothly. Challenges can arise as a result of any differences that multicultural companies might face in the following areas:

  • Communication styles
  • Attitudes toward conflict
  • Approaches to completing tasks
  • Decision-making styles
  • Attitudes toward disclosure
  • Approaches to knowing

Understanding and navigating these cultural differences is key to building successful relationships with colleagues and clients from different backgrounds.

Communication styles

Erin Meyer, an American author and professor at INSEAD Business School, introduced the concept of high- and low-context cultures in her book Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business.

High-context cultures rely heavily on nonverbal communication, tone, and context to convey meaning, while low-context cultures place greater emphasis on the explicit language used and details. For example, in a high-context culture, it may be inappropriate to deliver certain messages too explicitly, while in a low-context culture, it may be necessary to provide all the background knowledge and details necessary to understand the message explicitly.

High-context cultures: Guidelines

To work effectively with people from high-context cultures, avoid forming opinions too quickly, and listen more than you speak. When in doubt, clarify that you have understood something correctly. Active listening is essential for effective communication in high-context cultures.

Conversely, people from high-context cultures should focus on conveying their messages more explicitly. Stating the main idea at the beginning and recapping it at the end of a conversation can help ensure clarity.

Low-context cultures: Guidelines

When communicating with people from low-context cultures, it is best to be as transparent, clear, and specific as possible. Explain why you are calling, assert your opinions transparently, show all your cards up front, and recap all the key points again at the end of the conversation. You might even send an email repeating these points immediately afterward.

For people from low-context cultures, simply asking for clarification can work wonders. Try asking more open-ended questions to get more information. Practicing careful listening and asking yourself if there is a need to repeat yourself can also be helpful.

It is essential to remember that effective communication in multicultural teams requires low-context processes. To promote good practice, try speaking as clearly and explicitly as possible, and then repeating what you understood the other person to have said as clearly and explicitly as you can. This technique can help people quickly identify and correct misunderstandings, thereby reducing, if not eliminating, miscommunications.

It is important to recognize that what works to promote communication in one culture may not work in another culture. Being aware of cultural differences and understanding how to work with them can foster better communication, build trust, and promote a more harmonious and effective work environment.